1920’s Dancing


In the 1920’s new kinds of dancing evolved along with the new Jazz and Blues music.

The new music and dances were fast paced and energetic, like the optimistic 1920’s themselves. They were an escape from the horror of war, and an opportunity to release pent up emotions created by the restricted lifestyles forced on the public by the war effort

DANCING - EARLY 1900'sRagtime which had been popular during and after the war was suited to the new music tempos and so it flourished. Old favorites like the Waltz and Foxtrot remained popular due to people like Arthur Murray who ran dance schools and published “How to” books on all the popular dances. Dances like the Tango and Charleston received a huge boost in popularity when featured in movies by stars like Rudolph Valentino and Joan Crawford. Freed from the restrictions of tight corsets and the large puffed sleeves and long skirts that characterized dress during the late Victorian era, a new generation of dancers was swaying, hugging, and grinding to the new rhythms in dances.

While the new dances appealed to the youth they were not so popular with the older, more conservative generation who sawjazz in particular as decadent. This was partly due both to the nightclubing and parties that were the venues for the dancing, and to the style of dance itself. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel “The Great Gatsby” illustates the lifestyle of young people at this time.

It is worth pointing out that in the early 1900’s both the Waltz and the Tango were considered scandalous dances because they involved physical contact between partners during the dance. Once the dance crazes which took off in Paris were demonstrated in America, they were embraced by the public and close dancing became a social norm. In the 1920’s and 30’s the Lindy hop, named for the pilot Charles Lindburgh’s first solo flight, emerged and was the first dance to include swinging the partner into the air, as well as jumping in sequence.

People saw the new dances in Hollywood movies and practiced them to phonograph records or to radio broadcasts before going out on the dance floors of nightclubs or school gymnasiums. Dancing was a major part of peoplesentertainment center and an important part of every party. Schools taught dancing to small children, while churches used dances to attract young people. Tangos, Foxtrots, Camel Walks, even Square dances (which were heavily promoted by Henry Ford) were popular.

Magazines and books on social dancing and related social activities were very popular, as were dance schools teaching all the latest dance crazes. Dance etiquette inherited from the previous century began to change. Parents who could afford to would send their children to learn Tap and Ballet dancing. Dancing was an extremely popular social activity for all age groups. Dance marathons occurred every weekend with the longest ever recorded being 3 weeks of dancing.

Young people introduced their own fashion styles and so the “flapper” and “sheik” came into existence. Young women with short bobbed hairstyles, close fitting hats and short skirts were referred to as flappers, and young men with ukeleles, racoon coats and bell-bottom trousers were called “sheiks”.

Dancing began to actively involve the upper body for the first time as women began shaking their torsos in a dance called the Shimmy. Young people took to throwing their arms and legs in the air with reckless abandon and hopping or “toddling” every step in the Foxtrot, and soon every college student was doing a new dance which became known as the Toddle.

The dance that epitomizes the 1920’s is the Charleston. The Charleston was introduced to the public in the Ziegfield Follies of 1923 by the all black cast Afro-American Broadway musical “Running Wild”, and became so popular that even today, it is still a symbol for the 1920s Jazz Age. The Charleston is characterized by outward heel kicks combined with an up and down movement achieved by bending and straightening the knees in time to the music. Flappers with their knock knees, crossing hands, and flying beads danced the Charleston, and a dance called the “Black Bottom”, first introduced in a 1926 Broadway production. Within the year, the dance swept not only America, but the entire world.

The overwhelming popularity of the Charleston inspired choreographers and dance teachers to fabricate and promote several new fad dances to a public hungry for novelty. A new style of Blues Dancing also developed to fit the disreputable atmosphere of the speakeasy. It seemed as if the good times would never end, however the prosperity and optimism of the 20’s came to a halt with the Stock Market crash on Black Monday in September of 1929. America’s mood changed significantly during the Great Depression that followed.

1920’s DANCE RESOURCES

How to Dance the Charleston – 1925
Charleston dance described – and blamed for collapse of Pickwick Club

Arguments Against Jazz – 1921
Arguments as to Jazz being a Nation-wide Scourge

Social Dancing – 1924
Social Dancing in Boston in the early 1920’s

Dance Etiquette – 1921
Dance Etiquette Instructions from the early 1920’s

More Articles on 1920’s Dances
Excerpts from 1920’s dance articles – with a link to the full article.

 

Vernon and Irene Castle


Vernon and Irene Castle were a husband-and-wife team of ballroom dancers of the early 20th century. They are credited with invigorating the popularity of modern dancing. Vernon Castle (2 May 1887 - 15 February 1918) was born William Vernon Blyth inNorwich, Norfolk, England. Irene Castle (17 April 1893 - 25 January 1969) was born Irene Foote, the daughter of a prominent physician in New Rochelle, New York. In addition to cabaret, the Castles also became staples of Broadway. Among their shows were The Sunshine Girl (1913) and Watch Your Step (1914), which boasted a score written byIrving Berlin with them in mind. Emerging as America’s premier dance team, the Castles were trendsetters in a number of arenas. Their infectious enthusiasm for dance encouraged admirers to try new forms of social dance. Considered paragons of respectability and class, the Castles specifically helped remove the stigma of vulgarity from close dancing. The Castles’ performances, often set to ragtime and jazz rhythms, also popularized African-American music among well-heeled whites. Irene’s fashion sense, too, started national trends. Her elegant, yet simple, flowing gowns were often featured in fashion magazines. She is also credited with introducing American women to the bob—the short hairstyle favored by flappers in the 1920s. The whisper-thin, elegant Castles were trendsetters in many ways: they traveled with a black orchestra, had an openly lesbian manager, and were animal-rights advocates decades before it became a public issue. Irene was also a fashion innovator, bobbing her hair ten years before the flapper look of the 1920s became popular The Castles endorsed Victor Records and Victrolas, issuing records by the Castle House Orchestra, led by James Reese Europe –– a pioneering figure in Black music. The Castles’ greatest success was on Broadway, in Irving Berlin’s debut musical Watch Your Step (1914). In this extravaganza, the couple refined and popularized the Foxtrot, which vaudeville comedian Harry Fox is believed to have invented. After its New York run, Watch Your Steptoured through 1916.

Vernon and Irene Castle were a husband-and-wife team of ballroom dancers of the early 20th century. They are credited with invigorating the popularity of modern dancing. Vernon Castle (2 May 1887 – 15 February 1918) was born William Vernon Blyth inNorwichNorfolkEnglandIrene Castle (17 April 1893 – 25 January 1969) was born Irene Foote, the daughter of a prominent physician in New Rochelle, New York.

In addition to cabaret, the Castles also became staples of Broadway. Among their shows were The Sunshine Girl (1913) and Watch Your Step (1914), which boasted a score written byIrving Berlin with them in mind. Emerging as America’s premier dance team, the Castles were trendsetters in a number of arenas. Their infectious enthusiasm for dance encouraged admirers to try new forms of social dance. Considered paragons of respectability and class, the Castles specifically helped remove the stigma of vulgarity from close dancing. The Castles’ performances, often set to ragtime and jazz rhythms, also popularized African-American music among well-heeled whites. Irene’s fashion sense, too, started national trends. Her elegant, yet simple, flowing gowns were often featured in fashion magazines. She is also credited with introducing American women to the bob—the short hairstyle favored by flappers in the 1920s.

The whisper-thin, elegant Castles were trendsetters in many ways: they traveled with a black orchestra, had an openly lesbian manager, and were animal-rights advocates decades before it became a public issue. Irene was also a fashion innovator, bobbing her hair ten years before the flapper look of the 1920s became popular

The Castles endorsed Victor Records and Victrolas, issuing records by the Castle House Orchestra, led by James Reese Europe –– a pioneering figure in Black music.

The Castles’ greatest success was on Broadway, in Irving Berlin’s debut musical Watch Your Step (1914). In this extravaganza, the couple refined and popularized the Foxtrot, which vaudeville comedian Harry Fox is believed to have invented. After its New York run, Watch Your Steptoured through 1916.

2011/02/20 00:01

 

The Flapper


 “Flapper” in the 1920s was a term applied to a “new breed” of young Western women who wore short skirts, bobbedtheir hair, listened to jazz, and flaunted their disdain for what was then considered acceptable behavior. Flappers were seen as brash for wearing excessive makeup, drinking, treating sex in a casual manner, smoking, driving automobilesand otherwise flouting social and sexual norms. Flappers had their origins in the period of liberalism, social and political turbulence and increased transatlantic cultural exchange that followed the end of the First World War, as well as the export of American jazz culture to Europe. Actress Louise Brooks (1927)A flapper onboard ship (1929)   

Flapper” in the 1920s was a term applied to a “new breed” of young Western women who wore short skirts, bobbedtheir hair, listened to jazz, and flaunted their disdain for what was then considered acceptable behavior. Flappers were seen as brash for wearing excessive makeup, drinking, treating sex in a casual mannersmoking, driving automobilesand otherwise flouting social and sexual norms.

Flappers had their origins in the period of liberalism, social and political turbulence and increased transatlantic cultural exchange that followed the end of the First World War, as well as the export of American jazz culture to Europe.

Actress Louise Brooks (1927)A flapper onboard ship (1929)

 

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